Since last week when violence broke out in Bimbilla in the Northern Region, the media, largely made up of journalists from the south, have churned out a number of reports on the matter. Headlines like “Shots fired in Bimbilla over Cow Meat: One Confirmed Dead“, “4 Killed in Bimbilla over Meat“, “Four Dead in Bimbilla Gunfight over Cow Meat“, “Fight over Cow Meat: Bimbilla Clashes Death Toll Rises to 19“, among others, filled the media. Some media houses went to the extent of even determining the weight of the meat, which they reported to weigh 2.5 pounds.
What all these news reports have in common is that they leave behind an impression that the violent clashes were caused, more or less, by someone’s love for meat; or that a group of people place more value on a piece of meat (which weighs 2.5 pounds) than on human life. This unfortunate impression exudes a huge sense of condescendence as it fuels the unspoken prejudice that is generally held in the south against the north as a people of a slightly higher level of susceptibility to violence.
It’s extremely simplistic to reduce the Bimbilla issue to meat and the weight of meat. The Bimbilla issue isn’t about meat per se! It’s about sovereignty; it’s about atonement of tenancy; it’s about royalties; and it is about taxation.
To bring the matter closer home to my friends in the south who may still not get it entirely: I’d like to believe that you’re a bit familiar with the customary practice in your traditional areas which requires a sharecropper to give a NOMINAL share of his farm produce to his landlord or chief at the end of every season. By “nominal” I mean the material value of the rent is completely irrelevant. That nominal share is invariably called “peppercorn rent”. Peppercorn rent is merely a symbolic gesture of an extremely important concept.
The purpose of peppercorn rent is to serve as a recurrent reminder to the tenant (who, more often than not, is less wealthy than his landlord anyways) that he is a tenant; and that he will not dispute or intend to ever dispute the title of the landlord. A refusal to pay peppercorn rent, therefore, is a blatant denial of the title or lordship of the landlord – a very serious matter.
The meat issue at Bimbilla follows the same principle. It’s peppercorn rent which signifies the authority and lordship of the Reagent of Bimbilla over the people who make a living by killing animals on his land.
Now; just as the chief of your village in the south will not take kindly to any sharecropper who refuses to give a tiny basket of cassava to him at the end of the entire farming season; and could also (as they usually do, even today) dispatch his militia to go and enforce the payment of the rent; the Reagent of Bimbilla, too, could do same.
And if your chief’s enforcement of his traditional right to peppercorn rent doesn’t startle you to go and measure the weight of the basket of cassava, why sit down in your air conditioned office or studio and write stories that leave the impression that everything that happened in Bimbilla is about meat.
Violence must be Condemned
Indeed, violence must be condemned. However, it’s one thing condemning violence and another explaining a violent situation. It’s always important to draw a line between the two. What the media reports ended up doing, maybe inadvertently, is to purport to be explaining violence. If there’s violence in society and we wish to explain it, we ought to get serious as decent men and women, conduct honest investigation into the causes and, then, try to find durable solutions to it. The last thing any serious journalist would do in times like this is to be simplistic and ridiculous.
Every day we complain about western media, which are located several thousand miles away, for painting a prejudiced and ignorant picture of Africa. Yet we do same (if not worse) to ourselves. I feel disgusted at the way we, by ignorance or arrogance, sit down here in the south and belittle weighty matters in the north.